Hawaiian Electric Companies’ Plan for Upgrading Power Grids Can Help Integrate More Private Rooftop Solar

The Hawaiian Electric Companies today submitted the draft of a plan to modernize its five island power grids to bring online more renewable resources, improve reliability and resilience and give customers more choices.

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Filed today with the Public Utilities Commission, the draft plan describes the scope and estimated cost to update the energy networks of Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light in the next six years, and how it will help the companies achieve a consolidated renewable portfolio standard of 48 percent by 2020 and 100 percent by 2045.

The draft plan also describes how new technology will help triple private rooftop solar, make use of rapidly evolving products – including storage and advanced inverters – and incorporate an array of sophisticated energy management tools, including demand response.

“Our grids were originally designed for one-way flow of electricity to customers from a handful of power plants,” said Colton Ching, senior vice president for planning and technology. “We can use advanced technology to transform these grids for two-way power flow from nearly 80,000 privately owned rooftop solar systems today and tens of thousands more in the future, along with thousands of energy storage systems that will be part of our grids by 2045.”

Much of the first phase of work would be aimed at adding sensors and control systems onto circuits where the high level of private rooftop solar can produce potentially damaging variations in voltage and limit addition of new systems.

The cost of the first segment of modernization is estimated at about $205 million over six years. The plan focuses on near-term improvements that provide the most immediate system and customer benefit but don’t crowd out future technological breakthroughs.

Highlights of this near-term work include:

  • Distribution of smart meters strategically rather than system-wide, primarily for enhanced sensing and monitoring purposes, i.e., to customers with private rooftop solar on saturated circuits; and customers who want to participate in programs such as demand response, variable rates or who seek usage data;
  • Reliance on advanced inverter technology to enable greater private rooftop solar adoption;
  • Expanded use of voltage management tools, especially on circuits with heavy solar penetration to maximize circuit capacities for private rooftop solar and other customer resources;
  • Expanded use of sensors and automated controls at substations and neighborhood circuits;
  • Expansion of a communication network giving system operators greater ability to “see” and efficiently coordinate distributed resources, along with smart devices placed on problematic circuits and automation for improved reliability;
  • Enhanced outage management and notification technology

To develop this grid modernization strategy, the Hawaiian Electric Companies took a “clean sheet” approach, starting by talking with customers and community stakeholders across the state to determine what was important to them when considering energy delivery today and in the future.

The companies plan to meet with stakeholders and to hold public discussions of the grid modernization draft plan starting in July, with their input to be included in the final version of the plan to be submitted at the end of August.

The draft plan and related documents are available at www.hawaiianelectric.com/gridmod. Public comments on the plan can be submitted to gridmod@hawaiianelectric.com until Aug. 9, 2017.

Hawaii Electric Bills Fall to Lowest Levels in More than Five Years

Customers of Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric this month are seeing the lowest monthly electric bills in more than five years, largely due to the continued drop in fuel prices. And on Hawaii Island, customers of Hawaii Electric Light are benefitting even further, with the lowest monthly bills in more than six years.

“Lower oil prices are helping our customers right now, but we know our state needs to stay committed to long-term solutions, which means developing a diverse portfolio of low-cost renewable energy resources. It’s critical that we keep working toward our state’s goal of a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard,” said Darren Pai, Hawaiian Electric spokesman.

Based on 500 kwh/month for Oahu, Hawaii Island, and Maui; 400 kWh/month for Molokai and Lanai

Based on 500 kwh/month for Oahu, Hawaii Island, and Maui; 400 kWh/month for Molokai and Lanai

Currently, 22 percent of the electricity needs of the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ customers are met using renewable resources and Hawaii is by far the national leader in the percentage of customers with rooftop solar. And the Hawaiian Electric Companies are continuing to increase renewable resources and develop new options for customers to manage their bills. Recent actions include:

  • Proposed time-of-use rates for residential customers, public schools and electric vehicle owners
  • Expansion of utility-owned electric vehicle fast chargers
  • Piloting intelligent energy storage systems
  • A proposed community-based renewable energy program that would benefit customers who cannot or chose not to take advantage of rooftop solar to receive the benefits of renewable energy
  • Plans to install 137 megawatts of solar power from grid-scale projects to be completed in 2016

Hawaiian Electric Companies Implement Changes to Help More Customers Add Solar Photovoltaic Systems

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Companies are making procedures easier, faster and less expensive for customers seeking to add rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, while continuing to ensure safe and reliable service for all customers.

Solar Panels were recently placed on the Pahoa Community Aquatics Center

Solar Panels were recently placed on the Pahoa Community Aquatics Center

“Hawaii’s utilities lead the nation in percentage of customers who have PV,” said Scott Seu, vice president for energy resources and operations. “It’s a big contributor to achieving our state’s renewable energy goals and we know it’s an important option for our customers to help reduce their electric bills.

“At the same time, as our customers add more solar systems, circuits on all islands are reaching the level of PV that requires added care to maintain safety and reliability for all customers. But with additional studies and more experience, we are making changes to minimize the times when an interconnection study may be needed and making it as easy as possible for customers in cases when a study is needed.”

The Hawaiian Electric Companies are changing the threshold so more small systems (10 kW and under) can be added without a potentially costly and time-consuming interconnection study. The new threshold for a possible interconnection study is 100% of the daytime minimum circuit load, increased from 75%. In addition, Hawaiian Electric is doing a limited number of studies on several representative circuits and will apply the results to as many projects as possible on similar circuits.  Previously, each project requiring a study would have to go through its own separate study. This new approach will greatly reduce the number of studies needed and reduce costs to customers.

Hawaiian Electric is also asking all Oahu residential and commercial customers planning to add rooftop solar to call or email the utility before signing a contract or beginning installation. Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light already ask customers to contact them before initiating a solar project, as does Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Customers (or contractors on their behalf) should provide a name, address and proposed PV system size (in kilowatts) to the utilities by calling or emailing as follows:

• Oahu: 543-4760 or email nem@heco.com
• Maui, Molokai, Lanai: 871-8461 ext. 2445
• Hawaii Island:  969-0358 or email lvm@helcohi.com

In this way, a customer or contractor can get the most up-to-date status of the circuit on which they propose to add a solar project. Depending on how much PV is on the circuit, the utility may perform a supplemental review at the utility’s expense to determine if a more extensive study is required. Customers or contractors must still submit and get approval for a completed net metering application to connect to the grid and get the financial benefits of net metering.

“We want to avoid the situation where our customer signs a contract for PV or starts installation and later learns about added costs for studies or circuit upgrades because the circuit already has a high amount of PV,” said Seu. “We are making changes to make adding solar faster, cheaper and fairer, but we do ask customers to call so they have the most current information when making a decision about a very big financial investment in improving their homes or businesses.

“As we continue to monitor circuits and do representative studies we anticipate that it will be possible in the future for even more small systems to go forward without an interconnection requirements study,” Seu said.

Solar installations in Hawaii have doubled yearly since 2008 and are on track to double or nearly so in 2013.  No other utility in the nation has seen this dramatic growth. With more than 32,000 PV systems installed with a capacity of more than 240 megawatts interconnected, Hawaii utilities lead the nation in solar watts per customer and in the percentage of customers who have rooftop solar.

Background:
Too much solar power connected to a circuit without proper protective equipment is dangerous. The resulting back-feed can endanger the lives of utility workers and cause poor electric service, from flickers to outages. Over-voltage from high levels of solar can damage sensitive customer electronics including computers and televisions. Over-voltage can also damage utility lines and transformers. Interconnection studies are performed to identify what types of upgrades can be installed on a circuit to prevent these problems.

Hawaii Electric Companies Responding to Flossie Related Damages

Crews from Hawaii Electric Light Company and Maui Electric Company have been responding to storm-related outages.

A power line came down on Ainaloa Boulevard here on the Big Island. Photo Courtesy: Nick Turner

A power line came down on Ainaloa Boulevard here on the Big Island. Photo Courtesy: Nick Turner

On Hawaii Island, Hawaii Electric Light crews responded to outages throughout the lower Puna area caused by gusty winds from Flossie. The outages started shortly after 11:30 a.m. At this time, approximately 4,500 customers are without power.

On Maui, at this time Maui Electric crews have restored power to portions of Hana. An outage occurred shortly before 5 p.m. after heavy rains and thunderstorms were reported in the area. Earlier today, crews restored power to approximately 2,000 customers in the Kihei area who were affected by a brief 9-minute outage caused by high winds. Maui Electric also responded to two separate storm-related outages in the Piiholo area that affected a total of 25 customers, restoring power to those customers.

On Oahu, Hawaiian Electric has not yet experienced any storm-related outages. Crews are standing by to respond to any problems that may develop as Flossie approaches Oahu.

Power interruptions and voltage disturbances are possible as long as the stormy conditions persist. Do not touch fallen or low hanging power lines or anything they may be in contact with. A seemingly harmless wire may still be energized. Stay clear of puddles where downed lines may have landed.

Call 911 in the event of an emergency. To report a downed power line or an outage, please call:

• Oahu: 548-7961
• Hawaii Island: 969-6666
• Maui: 871-7777
• Molokai and Lanai: 1-877-871-8461